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Restorative justice for people who are innocent & wrongfully imprisoned

Mar 14, 2011

from Lorenn Walker's blog:

Recently, I saw how successfully RJ was used by someone who has steadfastly maintained innocence, and who does not take responsibility for the crimes she is in prison for.

The woman is serving several life sentences for crimes that she has denied since being convicted after a trial about 20 years ago. She was 18 when she went into prison and she has not seen two of her now adult children since then. Most of her children want a relationship with her and she wants one with them. The woman learned about restorative justice in a course we provide* in the prison, and she used an RJ process to focus how she could restore her relationship with her children, and address the harm caused them and herself, by her teenage drug use and her imprisonment.

The pain of losing a parent and losing children is huge and often the result when mothers and fathers go to prison. In this case both the children and the mother were able to hear and express their feelings and thoughts. It was a heartwarming process where not only was there some healing of the wounds caused from losing a vital loved one, but the woman also saw her sister for the first time in 18 years.

The woman takes responsibility for continuing to work on repairing her relationship with her children, and maintaining a clean and sober life style. It is consistent with what John Braithwaite and Shadd Maruna, two foremost leaders in justice reform, believe: that we should focus on getting people to address what they can do in the future to make things right and let go of our desire to make people admit guilt.

Read the whole entry.

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lisa rea
lisa rea says:
Mar 15, 2011 01:15 AM

This is a very interesting take on this problem. I have written a number of blog posts here at rjonline.org on the subject of wrongful convictions. I think there is a definite connection between restorative justice and wrongful convictions. <br /> <br />If an innocent man or woman is serving time for a crime he/she did not commit then that is a miscarriage of justice that must be corrected. No victim of crime would want the wrong person to be serving time in prison (or on death row). The victim or victims's family wants the real offender to be held accountable. <br /> <br />Lorenn's blog piece is interesting. There are indeed many &quot;victims&quot; as she notes, including the family of offenders and in this case the family of an offender that could be innocent. (I do not know the specifics of this case). <br /> <br />I do not think it changes the basic thrust of restorative justice processes, however. I think what this points out is the need to get it right. Wrongful convictions are real and in the U.S. are growing. Some 138 innocent men and women have been exonerated in this country. That's appalling. <br /> <br />And at the same time, once a man or woman is exonerated then the real culprit is not held accountable. That is an injustice suffered still by the crime victim and/or their family. <br />Restorative justice, and the vision it provides, calls for systemic reform of a very broken system. That applies to the U.S. justice system and to many justice systems around the world. <br /> <br />Lisa Rea

Eva-Lynne Carlson
Eva-Lynne Carlson says:
Jul 07, 2013 08:37 PM

Lisa Rea, I could not agree with you more. In fact, I will admit that my reaction to the use of restorative justice in this example troubles me. The problem I have is not that the subject of this post used an available resource to achieve the goal of establishing a relationship with her children and sister that she had not had for 18 years (it wasn't noted what the primary cause for the separation had been). She was resourceful in doing so. The issue I have is what I would describe as 'stuffing' whatever is available into the 'shoe' called restorative justice if criminal accountability doesn't easily fit.
If this woman is not guilty of committing the offense for which she currently is serving time, it is almost an offense to substitute whatever she may be guilty of, in this case drug use as a young adult/teenager and then comment on her remaining 'clean and sober'. Anyone and everyone is culpable to some misdoing of some kind at some point in life. I don't believe there exists any saintly beings (and I am specifically referring to the average adult population, not children or special needs populations) and it just comes across as somewhat sanctimonious to comment at all about the use of restorative justice for anything less than accountability to the offense one is being 'served justice'.
I am not criticizing the post, but I am troubled by the idea of finding restorative justice programs acceptable in cases where there is a less than certain ownership of responsibility for a crime. Even if such a program offers a practical resource for getting other objectives met. I would have done the same or more if in the same position. And I would have resented having to confess all my personal failings in order to 'fit' in the shoe if I actually was innocent of the crime. Thoughts?

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